June 29, 2017 By Douglas Bonderud 2 min read

Mobile ransomware is a huge headache. Beyond the inconvenience of locking down files and demanding cash for their release, Threatpost pointed out that most pieces of malicious code don’t leverage vulnerabilities to exploit devices but rely on users to download programs, which in turn give cybercriminals total system access.

Recently, Kaspersky Lab reported that a rise in Android malware increased 2017 first-quarter attacks threefold compared to 2016 — thanks to Svpeng.

Svpeng Boosts Mobile Ransomware Infections

According to Kaspersky Lab, from the beginning of 2015 through the end of 2016, mobile ransomware attacks fell almost 5 percent. But a sudden spike in December 2016 of the Svpeng malware family pushed early 2017 numbers up and over previous totals.

Until recently, two families of malware, Svpeng and Fusob, shared the mobile space more or less equally. Fusob tricks users into downloading a fake adult content player that then locks devices and demands a $100 to $200 ransom.

Svpeng, meanwhile, got its start in 2013 as a banking Trojan but has been modified to include ransomware functionality. Using a variety of techniques — from SMS messaging to fake video players to supposed updates for Adobe Flash players — Svpeng finds its way onto user devices, locks all files and may display a false FBI warning for downloading illegal content. Getting files back requires a payout of $100 to $500 with no guarantee of success.

PYMNTS.com said cybercriminals are shifting their focus to U.S. markets, while Canada, Germany and the U.K. remain popular targets. All of these countries enjoy widespread adoption of mobile and e-payment systems, making it more likely for malicious actors to succeed in extorting a cryptocurrency ransom.

A Growing Market

So why the sudden uptick in mobile ransomware? At first glance mobile devices seem like less-than-ideal candidates, since they’re often equipped with decent security measures and don’t offer attackers much in the way of easily exploitable vulnerabilities. However, the ubiquity of mobile devices and the way users interact with their devices makes them the perfect avenue for infection.

If device owners want something to improve their mobile experience, they want it immediately. That means they are likely to grant broad permissions if malicious software appears at the just the right moment, promising easy access to content or a quick fix for device issues.

While mobile malware is growing in sophistication, it’s also becoming more commercially available, allowing users with minimal skill to deploy ransomware across multiple platforms. The result? A booming economy for infections such as Svpeng and Fusob, and frustration for mobile users who weren’t expecting a sudden lockdown of personal files and demands for bitcoin payment.

While it’s easy to get stung by Svpeng or other strains of mobile ransomware, handing over the digital cash isn’t a good idea, iTWire explained. Just because fraudsters get paid doesn’t mean they’ll honor their end of the agreement and return devices to their original condition. And if victims pay up once, chances are they’ll do so multiple times. Put simply, spending to spring a smartphone from Svpeng only ramps up security risk.

Mobile ransomware is on the rise thanks to strong performance by Fusob and diversification in the Svpeng family. Staying safe means avoiding obvious traps — video players and Flash updates top this list — and passing on payment, even when pressured.

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